HC Deb 05 May 1823 vol 9 cc30-4
Mr. Abercromby

rose to present a petition from 7,000 house holders Edinburgh; The petitioners laid most representation the peculiar state of the representation of their great city before the House. They offered he opinion on the great question of parliamentary reform, but confined their statement and their prayer to their own peculiar situation, asking that relief which the justice of the case should point out to the wisdom of the legislature. The number of the inhabitants of the city of Edinburgh exceeded 100,000. Since the union of the two kingdoms, Edinburgh possessed the privilege of nominally electing a representative in parliament: but who were the real electors? Thirty three individuals sent to that House, the representative, as he was called of the city of Edinburgh; and even out of those thirty-three, nineteen elected their successors. In that dumber the privilege granted to the city of Edinburgh positively and substantially existed. What was the amount of property possessed by the thirty-three electors, compared with the property of the population, who possessed no voice? The property of the thirty-three electors did not exceed 2,800l. while the property of the whole was rated at 400,000l. per annum. Thus, the far greater proportion of the property, the rank, the talent, the education and the morality of the population of Edinburgh was excluded from any share in the election of its representative. They had no more share in returning to that House the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. W. Dundas), who sat there as their representative, than they had in the election of the member for Corfe Castle. The inhabitants of Edinburgh did not even know the day of election. The business was done in a close dismal room, and terminated in a snug and select dinner party. I It was charged against the reformers, that they were disposed to theories, but against the prayer, of the petitioners no such objection could lie. They complained of a practical grievance, and prayed for a. practicable remedy. The right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Canning) had opposed any form of the representation, because of its variety and capability of representing all sorts of interests. This could not apply to Edinburgh, for there was no case analogous to it in the English representation. The state of the representation in Scotland, was uniformly bad. There was no such thing as a popular election in that country, nor did its inhabitants enjoy any constitution means of assembling to make known then feelings and opinions upon political subjects. He promised to move for leave to bring in a bill early next session, to alter He mode of electing the member to Serve the city of Edinburgh.

Mr. W. Dundas

said, it had always been the wise custom of the House to strike at the root of abuses, when they were once exposed; but, in this case, no abuse was alleged to exist by the petitioners themselves. They, nevertheless, asked the House to do that which could not be done without the greatest injustice; they asked the House to infringe upon the chartered rights of the electors of Edinburgh—rights which, by the most solemn compact had been secured to them. He was satisfied that the House would not depart from their usual custom in this instance, nor proceed upon the allegations of a petition signed by persons who, though he did hot know them, in point of numbers bore no proportion to the inhabitants of Edinburgh.

Mr. Kennedy

was rejoiced to see this petition before the House, not only be cause, coming from so important a place as Edinburgh, it must command consider able attention, but because it would bring to the test the sincerity of those persons who said they would favour reform upon, a special case being shown. The statement of his hon. friend had fully made out such a case: thy result of his intended motion would prove the sincerity of the friends of reform. The right hon. gentleman had opposed the petition, and in doing so he had acted with perfect consistency: this was the petition of 7,000 of the inhabitants of Edinburgh—he was the representative of only 33 of them. Many persons in Edinburgh had refrained from signing the petition, from the ill-success of their previous attempts for a reform of the burghs.

Mr. Calcraft

said, he believed He House were never before aware of the real state of the representation of the city of Edinburgh. It appeared that in a population of above 100,000 persons, the right hon. gentleman opposite was the representative of only 33, which number was in fact reduced to 14, by the circumstance of 19 electing their successors. The right hon. gentleman had lately finished his political career in a manner worthy of his whole course, by accepting a sinecure of 2,000l. a year. It was a melancholy view of the representation of this country. The speech which the right hon. gentleman had made, was in the true spirit of the representative of 33 constituents. It was concise and singular, inasmuch as it communicated the right hon. gentleman's ignorance of 7,000 inhabitants of the city he represented. He hoped his learned friend's appeal would not be disregarded; and that whatever gentlemen might think of the question of reform in general, the present was a case which they would deem worthy of support. He hoped therefore, that his learned friend would bring in his bill; and that it would meet with considerable support. He even flattered himself that it would not be opposed by that great champion of the enemies of parliamentary reform, who, he believed, had been kept from assuming the government of India, that he might exert his eloquence in defence of the present state of the representation at home.

LORD Binning

was at a loss to understand with what grace a sarcasm upon close representation could proceed from the hon. member for Wareham. After all he had heard of the meeting at Edinburgh, of the stage effect (for it was held in the theatre), of the exertions used, &c he was astonished that out of a population of above 140,000, it was signed by only 7,000 persons. Every one who knew the facility with which all manner of men, women, and children, were got to sign petitions in large towns, and more particularly those who knew the extraordinary efforts which had been used to procure signatures to the petition before the House, must be surprised that they were not more numerous. Those persons who professed themselves friends to partial reform, had been called upon to support this petition. It was not in answer to that call that the rose; for he was no friend to partial, or temperate, or moderate, or any other kind of reform: but he thought this was not the case even for those gentlemen to support. No case had been made out which possessed peculiar claims. The case of Glasgow, for example, was much stronger. He considered this as an attempt to introduce parliamentary reform by piece-meal, and he trusted the House would, resist it,

Mr. J. P. Grant

said that to what had just been dropped by the noble lord, coming, as it did from a professed enemy to all kinds of reform, it was not his intention to offer any argument; but to those who had said they were ready to support the cause of reform where; a. case for it was made out, he put it whether any could be stronger than the one submitted by his hon. friend. To the objection, that object of the petitioners was to infringe on the articles of the Union, he replied that they sought not to deprive the pre sent electors of their rights, but to extend similar rights to others equally entitled to them.

Sir R. Fergusson

said, that so far, was the petition from being signed by woman or children, that of the 7,000 signatures there was not one of any person who did not reside in a house of 5l. a year in value.

Mr. Hume

believed that there were not more than 10,168 houses in Edinburgh pf more than5l. a year each in value. Deducting one-fourth of that number as being inhabited by females, it would appear that the petition was signed by within 500.of ail the male inhabitants of Edinburgh who resided in houses of above the value 5l a year. In his opinion, a stronger case could not exist.

Mr. H. Drummond

denied that the petition expressed the sense of the population of Edinburgh. If there had been a strong feeling on the subject, it would have been signed by 40,000 persons.

Ordered to lie on the table.